Discipline & Desire

The Guild is a solid, tangible, physical place; and the Guild is also a fluid community with highly permeable boundaries. One of the things that unifies these two disparate realities is the many-layered conversation that takes place at the Guild — both within the space of these walls and within the relationships of this community. It’s an ongoing conversation at the intersection of spirituality and art, and the way we go about practicing both — a steady search for common ground among the many diverse perspectives, values, and experiences that are a part of the Guild.

Like most things in a community, it’s a conversation that doesn’t belong to any one person. It existed long before most of us heard of the Guild, and it will continue just fine without us once we are gone. But in this present moment, we are a part of this community and this conversation, and we share the opportunity (and the responsibility) to add to it and take from it as we are able. Participating in this conversation has given me reason to think a lot over the past few days about the intense discipline and desire necessary to an artist.

In my teaching, I have mostly focused on the discipline that my students will need if they are to become accomplished artists. I know that their visions will not become reality by accident, but will require many hard hours in the studio — the long period of gestation during which a young artist’s technical skills and creative vision develop their mature power. It is a time marked by the making of mistakes, and also by the finding and fixing of mistakes. It is a time marked by high hopes, and by projects that fall short of those hopes. It is a time marked, for many of us, by intense frustration.

I believe it’s that frustration that most often foils would-be artists. The technical skills take time do develop, but they can be learned through steady work. What cannot be learned is the intense, stubborn desire necessary to keep on picking up the chisel or camera or paintbrush, and to keep on working even in the face of frustration and failure. It’s a hunger that must be fierce enough and focused enough to overcome the fear of risk or failure. As a teacher, I can model that in my own life and work, but the desire itself must be their own. Only they can seek out and discover the gnawing hunger in their own tight bellies — the hunger that will not be satisfied until the fleeting vision has been given solid flesh.

In the end, that is what it means to be an artist — to live and work in the tension of focused discipline and fiery desire. It’s what I try to foster in my own studio practice, and what I hope my students will be able to discover for themselves.


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About Sarah Jane

Working artist, university professor, community educator. Currently living in community at the Grunewald Guild, Leavenworth, WA.

4 responses to “Discipline & Desire”

  1. Lew Curtiss says :

    Sarah Jane – What a wonderful way to put it; “What cannot be learned is the intense, stubborn desire necessary to keep on picking up the chisel or camera or paintbrush, and to keep on working even in the face of frustration and failure. It’s a hunger that must be fierce enough and focused enough to overcome the fear of risk or failure.”

    In the end, it’s about ownership, isn’t it? We don’t “own” our creative lives until we’re ready & willing to invest ourselves fully into them no matter what the circumstances. No mentor of any kind can make us do what needs to be done. We’ve got to find our own fire in our bellies. All our mentors, can do, as you’re doing for your students, is show us the way by doing themselves.

    Thank you!

  2. Sarah Jane says :

    I like the way you said that, Lew — that it’s about being ready & willing to own our creativity. As I was composing this post, I had the feeling that it did involve a conscious decision on the part of the artist, but I couldn’t quite figure out what that was. You’re absolutely right, though — it’s about the willingness to take on that investment. Thank YOU. πŸ˜‰

  3. Yonnah Ben Levy says :

    Hi Sarah Jane,
    I have found for myself that age is not a factor in all that you are discussing…that unless you become like a little child idea is important for me
    as an ‘ oldie’ in the arts…that is, I am always doing experiements and making some wild mistakes and tweeking this or that to find my style and satisfaction. I think this is so imortant to staying fresh. Discipline is also that parental voice inside my heart and head that directs me to get up and get going, brush my teeth and eat some breakfast so I actually can have hours in the day to do something! I got it from my duck hunting fisherman father I”m sure, and to this day I hear that voice. Wearing a teacher hat which I began, like you, very young as a youth babysitter at age 12. I found sharing from my own struggles and successes seemed to be the best pathway into another’s heart to lead them into where I had been or was going. The Guild is a great place to be, are you on Semester Break?

  4. Sarah Jane says :

    Thanks for the comment, Yonnah! I’m glad to hear that the experimentation (and mistake-making) doesn’t have to end. It’s definitely the most fun and exciting part of the process. πŸ˜‰

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